May 2024 | No Comment

US agency probes risks of foreign satellite use by handheld devices

The Federal Communications Commission said recently that it is investigating if the use of Russian and Chinese foreign satellite systems by U.S. mobile phones and other devices poses security threats.

The FCC has concerns U.S. handheld devices are receiving and processing GNSS signals from satellites controlled by foreign adversaries in violation of commission rules. The FCC is seeking answers from handset manufacturers Apple, Google, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and others that collectively cover over 90% of the U.S. smartphone marketplace. The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“There is no established record of what security threats, if any, these signals carry and whether the manufacturers of handheld devices are processing these signals in violation of the Commission’s rules,” a FCC spokesperson said. Representative Mike Gallagher, chair of the House Select China Committee, wrote FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel earlier this week raising concern about reports that U.S. cell phones were receiving and processing signals from Chinese and Russian satellites.

The FCC has only approved U.S. phones to receivers to receive and process signals from the U.S. GPS and only the European Galileo GNSS has been approved. Gallagher said U.S. devices are receiving signals from the PRC BeiDou and Russian GLONASS GNSS constellations.

“Current events in Eastern Europe (including significant Russian jamming and spoofing of GNSS signals) call into question the wisdom of accepting this workaround and suggest it is critical that the FCC enforce its rules against using unauthorized signals from foreign satellites,” Gallagher said. Rosenworcel in 2018 raised concerns saying U.S. phones have chips designed to operate with global navigation satellite systems of other countries. “Many devices in the United States are already operating with foreign signals,” she said in 2018.

The FCC wants to know “whether their devices are in compliance with FCC rules and what vulnerabilities” may exist in how they process GNSS signals.

ESA kicks off two new navigation missions

ESA has signed contracts with several European companies for an overall amount of € 233 million to develop Genesis and a LEO-PNT demonstrator, two new missions within the FutureNAV programme that will keep Europe at the forefront of satellite navigation worldwide.

The contract for Genesis amounts to € 76.6 million. A consortium of 14 entities led by OHB Italia S.p.A. (IT) is tasked with developing, manufacturing, qualifying, calibrating, launching and operating the Genesis satellite, including all its payloads. This mission is supported by Italy, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Hungary and the UK. The Genesis satellite is planned to launch in 2028, followed by years of scientific exploitation.

For LEO-PNT, two parallel contracts of € 78.4 million each have been signed for two endto- end low Earth orbit positioning, navigation and timing (LEO-PNT) in-orbit demonstrators. The contracts include the design and development of satellites and payloads, ground segment, test user segment and satellite launches, operations, experimentation and demonstration of services with end users.

One of the contracts for LEO-PNT demonstrator is led by GMV Aerospace and Defence S.A.U. (ES), as overall system prime and OHB System AG (DE) as space segment prime and core partner. The other contract is led by Thales Alenia Space France S.A.S (FR) as overall system prime and Thales Alenia Space SPA (IT) as space segment prime.

The missions were approved at ESA’s Ministerial council of 2022 as part of FutureNAV programme, in ESA’s Navigation Directorate. FutureNAV enables ESA to respond to trends and needs in the field of positioning, navigation and timing, and allows Europe to stay on the cutting edge of satellite navigation technology.

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